OVERLOOKED for a place on the Olympic marathon team last summer, Maria McCambridge is the favourite to win the national title which will be run in conjunction with Monday's Dublin Marathon.
McCambridge previously won this crown with a 2:36:33 run in 2008, was second behind Linda Byrne last year in 2:40.26 and subsequently got the Olympic standard by running 2:36.37 in Rome but was bitterly disappointed not to get one of Ireland's three marathon slots in London.
Since then the 37-year-old has won the Irish 5,000m and half-marathon titles, run a 73.05 'half' last month and has been hottest on the domestic road circuit.
Barbara Sanchez's 75:57 run in Copenhagen last month indicates the Raheny athlete could provide her toughest opponent.
With Linda Byrne concentrating on cross-country at present, her other main challengers will likely be former Irish champion Pauline Curley, Annette Kealy and Clonliffe's Ailish Malone, who joined the 'Marathon Mission' group this season.
McCambridge's husband, Gary Crossan, a former four-in- row Irish marathon champion, is also among the elite domestic men's field which includes another former winner in Clonliffe's Sergiu Ciobanu.
Also vying for the Irish men's title will be Barry Minnock, who ran 2:17;40 in Hannover in May, and two marathon debutants in Sean Hehir and Paul Pollock, the latter placing 34th with a 65:38 run at the World Half-Marathon Championships.
But likely to be first across the finishing line will be the strong foreign contingent led by Geoffrey Ndungu, who set the 2:08.33 course record last year and ran 2:10 in Vienna in April.
Other top Kenyans are Charles Kibiwott (sub-2:07 in 2006), Robert Kipchumba, a former world junior 10,000m champion who has three sub-2:10s, and Philemon Limo, who ran a 2:09.25, debut this year.
Another to watch is Ethiopia's Demessew Tsega, who has a 2:09.44 personal best from last year.
Namibia's defending women's champion Helalia Johannes is also back. She ran a 2:26.09 PB when 12th in the Olympics, but Russia's Olga Glok, who was third last year but has beat her in Vienna since, should be her main challenger.
As always, the Marathon Expo in the RDS (11.0-7.0, tomorrow and Sunday) is a big part of the weekend.
Its keynote speakers include Lee Troop, England's Tony Riddle and Australia's Dr Keith Livingston and it also has a dedicated triathlon area. Runners and supporters alike should also note that Monday's race has returned to a 9.0 start-time in Fitzwilliam Street Upper.